If you thought only Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, and the like, could make you laugh, think again. The ladies too are equally funny, if not better. This Entertainism article lists some of the best female stand-up comedians of the past few decades.
Stand-up comedy and comedy in general is the ultimate form of free speech, because you get to poke holes in all the pretentious bubbles politicians and pundits and popes and pretenders try to float over our heads.
― Denis Leary
People often believe that comedy and women don’t go together. Looks like no one told these ladies about that little piece of information. These hilarious ladies have not just entered a man’s world of stand-up comedy, but also made their name and fame in this field. They have said it all and done it all; from ridiculous wigs and costumes, impersonating actors and politicians, making funny sounds, to cracking jokes on sexuality, politics, A-list personalities, and even on themselves. They have pranced and shimmied on gray topics of life, with their ever-quick wit and merciless banter. Twisting and turning words, complicating the simplest of thing, and simplifying the most complicated, are some things they do with ease. Their spontaneous wit and humor, and fearless performances have spared none.
From performances at coffee shops and open mic nights, these ladies have climbed the staircase of fame and fortune. With their award-winning performances, book publications, TV shows, and movies, these women have done it all. Their immense contribution has paved the way for new hysterical talent, and made them idols for new comers in the comedy business.
Phyllis got up on stage for the first time at San Francisco’s Purple Onion nightclub. She is the first female stand-up comedian in the history of comedy. She made her way to a thriving television career with her hilarious performances on ‘Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!’, ‘Eight on the Lam’, and ‘The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell’, from 1966 to 1968.
Hit TV shows got Diller her own show, called ‘The Phyllis Diller Show’, which gave her the liberty to wear fright wig and garish outfits. She was known for her crackling voice and ‘Fang’ (Fang was the name of her fictional husband she used while doing stand-up comedy). She later lent her voice for the ‘Monster mate’ character in the movie ‘Mad Monster Party’, and the ‘Queen’s’ character in ‘A Bug’s Life’.
Joan performed in numerous comedy clubs in the Greenwich Village, New York City, including ‘The Gaslight Cafe’. She later wrote for ‘Candid Camera’, and ‘Topo Gigio’, a puppet show. There was no stopping her after that.
Rivers had always been in the spotlight, be it for her controversial comedic persona, self-deprecating comedy, or her spontaneous wit. She was the first woman to be the host a late night television talk show, called ‘The Late Show with Joan Rivers’. The show’s success won her a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host. She was also the author of numerous humor books, comedy albums, and twelve bestselling memoirs.
Sarah began performing when she was around 12 years old. She landed her first stand-up gig at the age of 17. She later went on and became a writer on SNL (Saturday Night Live). Later, she landed a role as Wendy in ‘The Larry Sanders Show’, which opened new prospects for her, like making awkward appearances on Jimmy Kimmel’s show.
Silverman wrote an autobiography called ‘The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee’. Sarah was one of the comedians on Comedy Central’s roast for Pamela Anderson and Hugh Hefner. She got her own TV series called ‘The Sarah Silverman Program’, which got her a nomination for an Emmy for the Best Actress in a Comedy Series.
Tina Fey started her carrier as a writer for SNL, where she later made history by becoming the first female head writer. Her TV break gave her an opportunity to co-anchor with Jimmy Fallon during the show’s 25th season. She also created and act in her own television series called ’30 Rock’. This was loosely based on her years in SNL, in which she played a character called Liz Lemon. She also wrote and acted in the teenage movie ‘Mean Girls’.
Fey starred in the movie ‘Baby Mama’, alongside Amy Poehler. During the elections, her impression on Sarah Palin won her an Emmy. She often played characters having embarrassing junk food addictions, or characters with unsuccessful or embarrassing relationships. She has received many awards, viz. one Emmy, three Golden Globes, four Screen Actors Guilds, and four Writers Guild of America awards.
Amy joined the cast of SNL in 2001, and soon became a regular on the show. She later joined Tina Fey in anchoring the SNL show in 2003 – 2004. She impersonates Avril Lavigne, Julia Roberts, Sharon Osbourne, Madonna, and Tonya Harding on the show. Her acting gave her opportunities to join the cast of ‘Arrested Development’ along with her husband Will Arnett.
Poehler debuted in the movie business with Tina Fey. She also started in her TV show ‘Parks and Recreation’. Amy was nominated in the Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for ‘Parks and Recreation’, at The Women’s Image Network (WIN) Awards in 2012.
Kathy is known for her catty gossip stand-up comedy. She has a regular stand-up act at the Laugh Factory in L.A. She starred in the Emmy winning reality series ‘Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List’, in 2005. She known to use her experiences with celebrities in her performances. Her favorite topics of enactment are plastic surgery, alcohol intoxication, substance abuse, snooty attitude of celebrities, eating disorders, and stars with questionable sexual orientation.
Who can forget Deloris Van Cartier or Sister Mary Clarence, a lounge singer who is hiding in a Convent pretending to be a nun. No one could do it better than Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi, or Caryn Elaine Johnson (birth name), first performed her stand-up act at San Diego Repertory Company, under the name ‘Whoopi Cushion’. She later worked with improv groups such as Spontaneous Combustion, while developing her own stand- up skills.
In 1985, Whoopi won a Grammy Award for the Best Comedy Performance Single or Album Spoken or Musical for ‘Original Broadway Show Recording’. She first showed prominence in Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Color Purple’ as Celie Johnson. She worked in iconic movies, viz. ‘Telephone’, ‘Made in America’, ‘Soapdish’, and even won an Oscar for her role in ‘Ghost’. Her performances’, Sister Mary Clarence in ‘Sister Act’, ‘Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit’, and Oda Mae Brown in ‘Ghost’ are still very memorable.
Chelsea started doing stand-up comedy, and found her signature style in critical and sarcastic views on celebrities, her sex life and self-deprecating humor, bitter commentary, pop culture, and her fondness for vodka. Vanity Fair declared her to be one of the ‘Queens of Comedy’, in the year 2008.
Chelsea is the author of 3 books, ‘My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands’, ‘Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea?’, and ‘Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang’, which took the first three spots on the New York Times Bestseller list. She also hosts her own TV show on E! Channel’s ‘Chelsea Lately’.
Wanda began her stand-up career at a ‘Coors Light Super Talent Showcase’ in Washington, DC. Her distinct voice, sassy personality, and blunt observations quickly won the hearts of many. She had written and performed on HBO’s program ‘The Cris Rock Show’. She also wrote, produced, and starred in Fox’s ‘Wanda at Large’. It later lead to Comedy Central specials called ‘Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied’ and ‘Wanda Does It’.
Sykes has also written a book ‘Yeah I Said It,’ which is a collection of hilarious accounts of essays covering topics like life, current events, and family. Wanda ranks among Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Funniest People in America, and is called one of the funniest stand-up comics. She ranked number 70 in Comedy Central’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time, and was the only African-American woman to make the list.
Margaret Cho began writing jokes at the age of 14, along with her father who wrote joke books for a living in Korea. Writing, to her, was as an escapism and an outlet from all the bullying that went on at school. All her writing was well rewarded, when only two years later she began performing professionally, and that too just at the age of 16. A few years later, she won a prize to open for Jerry Seinfeld, which later led to a prime-time special, and which became an instant hit.
Cho’s favorite topics on stage are political problems, critiques social, sexuality, and race. She is also an author of two books, ‘I’m the One That I Want’ and ‘I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight’. In 1999, she toured the country with her off-Broadway one-woman show ‘I’m The One That I Want’, which was later made into a book.
Ellen originally started her carrier as a stand-up comedian at small clubs and coffee houses. Her comedy was distinct as compared to her peers; it was neither vulgar nor mean. Winning a competition opened the doors to a whole new world. It led to better gigs, such as her first appearance in ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’. She was awarded ‘The Best Female Club Standup’ by Comedy Awards in 1991, and named ‘Entertainer of the Year’ by Entertainment Weekly in 1997, and again in 1998.
Later, it landed her a sitcom on ABC, called ‘These Friends of Mine’, which was renamed as ‘Ellen’ in 1994. With minor bumps along the way, Ellen got her own show called ‘Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, in 2003’. This won 15 Emmy Awards, making it the first talk show in television history to have won an Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Talk Show’ in its first three seasons on air. She is also the author of two books, ‘My Point… And I Do Have One’ and ‘The Funny Thing Is…’.
Maya joined the cast of SNL in 2000, and is known for her impression of fashion diva Donatella Versace and Christina Aguilera. In 2004, she was voted number 20 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of ‘Funniest People in America’. She is vocally gifted, and uses her voice in many of her sketches. Her uncanny ability to change herself and her command on many accents allows her to play a wide range of rolls, often with very little change in her costume.
Maya can impersonate Amanda Byram, Ananda Lewis, Barbra Streisand, Condoleezza Rice, Charo, Diana Ross, Ivanka Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Lucy Liu, Paris Hilton, Lisa Kudrow, Lisa Ling, Liza Minnelli, Tyra Banks, Tina Turner, and Vanessa Hudgens, to name a few. She has also played male characters such as Justin Guarini, Mario Vazquez, and Scott Joplin. She is known for her character Megan on ‘Wake Up, Wakefield!’.
Whitney began her stand-up comedy at the age of 24, which gave her the title of Variety’s Top Ten Comics to Watch, in 2007. Her profane topics captivate her audiences. She has performed on ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’, ‘Comics Unleashed’, ‘NESN’s Comedy All-Stars’, and many more. She has appeared several times on ‘Chelsea Lately’ on E!. Entertainment Weekly named her one of 12 Rising Stars of Comedy.
Whitney tickled the audiences on Comedy Central Roasts of David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump, and Joan Rivers. Whitney is also the creator and lead in the sitcom ‘Whitney’, on NBC, and the co-creator of the sitcom ‘2 Broke Girls’, on CBS.
June Diane Raphael
June began her career in comedy as a writer and performer with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCB) in New York and L.A. She met Casey Wilson in clowning class at NYU, and it went on to become a wonderful friendship. Their teamwork won them the ECNY Award for ‘Best Comedy Duo’, in 2005. Her acting skills bagged her roles in movies, viz. ‘Zodiac’, ‘Bride Wars’, and ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’.
Sherri started her career as a stand-up comedian in 1990. Hard work landed her a roll as Ramona on ABC’s ‘Less Than Perfect’, in 2002. She continued performing regularly at the Laugh Factory, Comedy Store, and the Improv. She is the author of ‘Permission Slips: Every Women’s Guide to Give Herself a Break’, released in 2009. Her humor landed her a co-anchoring gig on the ABC daytime talk show ‘The View’.
Sherri also had recurring roles on ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, ’30 Rock’ as Angie Jordan, and ‘Living Single’. She starred in many sitcoms, viz. ‘Suddenly Susan’, ‘The Jamie Foxx Show’, and ‘Less than Perfect’. She refuses to forget her stand-up comedy roots, and still performs at clubs in Los Angeles, like the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory.
These incredible women have striven to tickle the funny bones of audiences everywhere possible, be it on camera or off, ranging from dingy nightclubs and coffee houses to TV shows and movies. They are a simple reminder that, no matter what their color, ethnicity, and sexual orientation is, comedy and laughter is what drives them.